For all the fresh possibilities that first-time political candidates brought to the table, the winners of Tuesday’s primary election showed that, for the most part, establishment politics still win the day in Brevard County.
Nowhere was that clearer than in the two County Commission races, dominated Tuesday by two well-connected Brevard political insiders: Former State Rep. Tom Goodson in District 2 and Rob Feltner in District 4, a political consultant who has helped elect some of Brevard’s top politicians.
Both men will ride the support of party leaders, prominent elected officials and a deep well of local lobbyists and special interests into the November election.
Political consultant secures sweeping win: Rob Feltner takes Brevard County Commission District 4 race in overwhelming victory
Goodson to take on non-party affiliated candidate: Former State Rep. Tom Goodson wins Brevard County District 2 Republican primary
Primary election 2022: Brevard County results
“Tom Goodson knows the county and knows the people and we are honored to have him running,” Rick Lacey, chair of the Brevard Republican Executive Committee, said after the results were in Tuesday night. “Rob Feltner had a four-way race and ran a very effective campaign and won big tonight.”
Both are virtually assured to carry the general election, especially Feltner, whose name will be on the only one to appear on the ballot for the District 4 seat.
Feltner will face write-in “ghost” candidate Joseph Michael Aiello, whose last minute entry into the race sparked controversy when he admitted to FLORIDA TODAY he didn’t plan to campaign for the seat and only entered the race to close the primary, shutting out Democrats and independents from voting in Tuesday’s D4 election.
There was heavy speculation Feltner was involved with the move after text messages shared with FLORIDA TODAY showed sitting Commissioner Curt Smith — who vacates the District 4 seat in November due to term limits — was recruiting a write-in candidate in order to benefit Feltner just before the June qualifying deadline. Feltner, who denied he had any part in the effort, helped run Smith’s first campaign in 2014.
Goodson, meanwhile, will face Dontavius Smith, a non-party affiliated candidate largely unknown to Brevard voters who is expected to offer little challenge to the popular four-term Florida House member.
Tuesday’s results were not close, with the election largely decided once the early voting and mail-in ballot results were revealed early in the evening.
Unlike Feltner, who won overwhelmingly in the D4 race, Goodson only garnered 6,000 votes, about 42% of the total vote count. Almost 60% of District 2 voters who cast their ballots voted against him for other candidates. But with a crowded field, 42% was enough for Goodson to take the prize.
Goodson’s next closest rival, former Cocoa Beach Mayor Dave Netterstrom, took about 3,500 votes. Chris Hattaway, the Cocoa police officer who drew headlines last month when he was one of three candidates to lodge allegations of election interference against Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, came in a close third with about 3,100 votes.
But while Goodson’s victory was sufficient, Feltner’s was comprehensive and devastating to his rivals. By the time the votes were all counted, Feltner took, 7,700 votes, about 55%. The second-place winner, first-time candidate Sandra Sullivan, earned 3,100 voters for about 23% of District 4 Republican voters. Brevard real estate developer David Armstrong made a strong final push to come in just under Sullivan at 19% with about 2,700 votes.
The term of office for a county commissioner is four years, and the position pays $58,145.36 a year.
Goodson’s and Feltner’s politics are largely in step with the three Commissioners still sitting on the board, and are very close to Sheriff Ivey, assuring its priorities will remain mostly unchanged after November.
Election put sheriff’s endorsement to the test amid scandal
Their victories Tuesday relied heavily on the war chests they had built from their own pocketbooks and those of supporters, and on the myriad endorsements they obtained from prominent Brevard leaders, including Ivey.
It looked for a brief moment as if Ivey’s typically potent endorsement might become more of a liability for Goodson, Feltner and others on the sheriff’s slate of candidates last month, after Ivey became embroiled in election interference allegations.
Three local candidates said the sheriff had offered to land them political jobs or high-level appointments if they agreed to drop out of their races, a move that would have benefited Ivey’s endorsed candidates.
Goodson was pulled into the radius of the controversy after Hattaway and District 2 School Board candidate Shawn Overdorf (who was eliminated Tuesday night from a run-off election for the seat in November) said Ivey offered them jobs working in Goodson’s future commission office worth up to $50,000 or more a year.
Goodson has said he had no knowledge or involvement with the alleged offers, and did not give Ivey permission to make job offers on his behalf.
Kimberly Musselman, a respected assistant state attorney who will face Ivey-backed Renee Torpy in a November run-off for county court judge, said the sheriff had made her a similar proposal, offering to help her get elected or appointed State Attorney for the 18th Judicial Circuit if she also agreed to drop out.
In the end, Goodson and Feltner proved the staying power of the popular sheriff’s support, at least for now, after heavily featuring Ivey’s endorsement in a run of political ads in the final weeks before the primary.
Goodson especially used Ivey’s endorsement to great effect. A string of Goodson’s campaign mailers featured at least one photograph of Ivey, with one such ad focusing solely on the sheriff’s support.
He used the endorsement to highlight his support for law enforcement, one of his central campaign planks alongside the economy, low taxes and restoration of the Indian River Lagoon, according to a statement he provided to FLORIDA TODAY.
The former state representative spent almost $60,000, about two-thirds of his total spending, on mailers this election cycle. The bulk of Goodson’s $150,000 campaign fund came from $65,000 in loans to himself.
“Thank you to the voters of District 2 and to everyone who worked so hard on our campaign,” Goodson said. “I deeply appreciate your support, and look forward to the general election in November.”
District 2 includes Avon by the Sea, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Kennedy Space Center, Port Canaveral and Snug Harbor, as well as most of Merritt Island and portions of Cocoa, Rockledge and Patrick Air Force Base.
Feltner for the win
Feltner self-funded much of his own $200,000 war chest, spending nearly $90,000, not including a $28,000 payment from his now defunct electioneering communications organization to the Voter Interest Group ECO in February last year.
Some of that money came back last week in the form of an attack mailer against opponent Dave Armstrong, paid for by Voters Response, another ECO which recorded $32,000 in contributions from the Voter Interest Group just before the ads were sent out.
Voter Interest Group and Voters Response are both registered to David Ramba, a prolific Tallahassee lobbyist.
“We are very happy tonight,” Feltner said Tuesday. “I greatly appreciate all the people who volunteered on my campaign. And I am grateful to all the people of the district who voted for me today.”
His second-place rival, Sandra Sullivan, said Wednesday she was “encouraged” by the results of the election, even if she didn’t win.
“I made a lot of people aware of issues, particularly of impact fees and how their taxes are going to increase. That will continue to be the fight and I will continue to go to the meetings and hold the commissioners’ feet to the fire,” she said.
Feltner, who ran on many of the same messages as Goodson, touted endorsements he received not only from Ivey but also from sitting members of the county commission, such as Smith and Commissioner Rita Pritchett.
Like Goodson, he said he would champion the lagoon and played up the support he had from law enforcement officers. His biggest priorities will include infrastructure, such as improving roads and reducing traffic congestion, and the county budget amid inflation concerns.
Eric Rogers is a watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Rogers at 321-242-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @EricRogersFT.